Tag: course design

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Beyond the Course Outline: Making Your Courses Invaluable

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A few months ago I wrote a post on how to put together a course outline.  Since then, I have seen several courses - some still in outline format - that I would classify into two categories: The Abridged Google Search and The Project Calendar.  Even though both styles have fairly good outlines, they leave me (the student) thinking “I could’ve figured this out myself”.

“The Abridged Google Search” course design

These courses are similar in nature to those websites that are nothing more than a series of links to other sites.  A course that is nothing but a series of links to other sites on the subject is more like a bibliography than a course; it is simply a list of additional reading sources.  

Courses put together in this manner suffer from disjointed material; content written by several different people with different writing styles, audiences, and objectives.  It is next to impossible for the student to know what the teacher intended to be the salient points.  There is no natural progression from one page (web link) to another and no transition between them. 

“The Project Schedule” course design

This type of course probably teaches better than the “Abridged Google Search” because at least the core content was designed for instruction.  These courses go something like this:

  1. Week/Topic 1: 
    1. Read chapters 1-3 (or watch video #1)
    2. Hand in Assignment #1 (or take Quiz #1)
  2. Week/Topic 2:
    1. Read chapters 4 & 5 (or watch Video #2)
    2. Hand in Assignment #2 (or take Quiz #2)
  3. etc.

So, after I read all of this material, on my own, take a test, and spend a couple of hours on an assignment, the instructor will get back to me on whether I got it right or not?  I might as well just get the book and read it! 

Add Value to Your Content

I believe that learning takes place in all sorts of ways; never myopically.  It is a must to include references and external links as often as possible. But I also believe that a teacher should be more than a traffic cop.  Directing people to look here and look there isn’t really what a teacher does.  Here are some ways you can teach, while still using a book, a series of videos, and external web links: 

  • Paraphrase and Summarize – Rather than linking to all those external sites, create your course content as though it is a thesis or book report.  Write your own content, referencing those external sources.  Add your own graphics or even audio, video, etc.
  • Combine ideas – If you really are an expert, you must have thought of “a better way to do this”.   Tell your students how you would do it, not how everyone else does it.  Adding tips and tricks is a good way to do this even if your subject matter doesn’t allow too much variation in method.
  • Compare ideas – There are as many versions of the truth as there are people speaking it.  This is truer with some subjects than others.  Even with a topic as based in fact as physics, there are opposing view points.  Offer your students a comparison of each of the major ideas, with the merits and pitfalls of each.
  • Tell a story, real or not, that puts it all together – A picture is worth 1000 words and an example is worth even more.  Even if you can’t write a fable that illustrates your point, provide an example or two that will give some life to your content.  Stories are easier to remember than lists of unrelated concepts.

Last year I wrote about copyrighting content and that I feel that the real value is in the teaching, not the words on the page.  You can not be copyrighted and you can not be copied.  Adding value to your content makes your courses invaluable, just as it makes you invaluable.  As a consultant, a trainer, or a business whose product success depends on excellent training, you can’t afford to be anything less.

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 3

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In the first two parts of this series on Moodle quizzes, we covered appearance and strictness.  This post discusses how much and what type of feedback we can provide to the students, with each question and for the exam as a whole. 

Part 3: Feedback Settings 

Review Options 

  • If you want to provide your students with feedback - both your comments and the right answers - check the first column “Immediately”.  If they can attempt the quiz again, obviously, they can use this feedback to get a better grade.  But if you have just one attempt, this is a great way to provide feedback while the questions - and the concepts - are still fresh in their minds. 
  • If you don’t want anyone to know the right answers until the test is closed for good, check the items in the far right column.  The quiz must have a close date for this to occur.
  • If you don’t ever want anyone to know, ever, uncheck all of the items.  

Overall Feedback 

  • Grade boundaries are the maximum and minimum grade received for each comment.  The highest (100%) and lowest (0%) are the default.  You can break that range into as many smaller categories as you wish.
  • Feedback is the text that will appear to the student when the quiz is submitted (if you have this checked in Review Options), according to his grade.  You can be as serious as you like (Excellent!), or silly (You’re so bright I need sunglasses in your presence).  Don’t be afraid to customize this feedback to match your content, both in topic and tone.  A play on words is another form of reinforcement…

The following are not part of the update quiz mode; these settings can be found in the question edit area.  What is displayed to the student is controlled by the Review Option settings. 

Question Feedback 

  • General feedback can be left blank or include graphics, links, and formatted text, using the HTML editor.  This feedback is on the question as a whole, not dependent on the student’s response. Use it to provide more information on the topic (including links and graphics).
  • Most question types provide the option of feedback for each answer.  If you have designed your questions with plausible wrong answers, this is a great opportunity to provide additional explanation on why that answer is incorrect.  Don’t just say “sorry” or “wrong”.  There’s no value in that type of feedback. 

I encourage you to play around with these settings, doing a preview each time.  Be consistent in your settings for each type of test.  To reinforcement concepts, be “lax”.  For final exams that really matter, be “strict”. 

All you need now are some well-written questions!  For more on testing in a business environment, check out these posts:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 2

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In Part 1, we covered settings that control the appearance of the quiz.  In this post, we’ll discuss the settings that control how much information is provided to the student, and when.  These settings provide us with the opportunity to give “open book” vs. “closed book” exams, “proctor help”, and “instant grading”, all very much like we could do in person.  This gives the Moodle quiz activity tremendous versatility because it can be used as a formal certification exam, an informal pop quiz, or anything in between.

Part 2: Strictness Settings

Timing

  • If you want to force students to take a timed exam, enter the number of minutes in the time limit field.  A really cool countdown clock will appear when the exam is started.  For business training not regulated by professional licensing or other certification rules, you’ll probably want to leave this disabled. Unless you just love the clock…
  • If you allow only one attempt (discussed later), the time between is irrelevant.  If you want to use this quiz to test reliability of your test instrument, you’ll want to put an appropriate delay in here.  

Attempts

  • You can practically give away the answers while still allowing only one attempt, so don’t be disillusioned into thinking that one attempt is the strictest setting.  If you want a measure of question reliability, you’ll need at least two attempts.  If you’re just giving an exam and don’t intend to measure the test itself, keep this at one.
  • Each attempt builds on the last, when checked, shows the student the answer he gave the last time.
  • Adaptive mode, when enabled, tells the student “no, that wasn’t the right answer”, so the student can keep trying until he gets it right.  This mode can also change the question, depending upon what the student submitted as an answer. 
    • In my experience, there is no need for this complexity (and often no one has the skill to do it) in business training.  Do not use this type of quiz unless it makes sense for your content, you can make good use of the information, and you have skilled test question developers to create it.
    • If you use adaptive mode, with no penalties and no change in the question wording, plus useful feedback on each question, you can use this quiz to reinforce concepts.  The grades won’t be of any value, but it can be a good teaching tool. 

Grades

  • With only one attempt, this is irrelevant.  The choices are fairly self-explanatory and I cant think of any “typical” one to advise you to use for business training exams.
  • Applying penalties is to keep people from guessing.  If they leave it blank, they’ll get no credit; if they guess it wrong, they’ll lose points.  I don’t like this choice, ever, because it makes it really hard on me to analyze grades. If you have allowed the adaptive mode (above) you must apply penalties to prevent everyone from getting 100%!
  • The precision of the grades is up to you, but the rule with decimal places is always that one more decimal place than existing in the original data.

You should now be able to create a Moodle quiz activity with the appearance and student difficulty level you desire. To review the basic appearance settings or to learn about feedback:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 1

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One of the beautiful things about the Moodle Quiz activity is that with a few clicks, you can create a “closed book, timed, seriously strict” exam (assuming your questions are good, too); with a few other clicks, you can produce a fun, silly, interactive memory jogger.  You can use the same questions in different quizzes with different “strictness” settings, having to create each question only once.  You can provide the right answers, with serious or funny feedback, or leave the students wondering if they passed or bombed.

I’ll split this discussion into three posts, according to what the settings control:

Part 1: How it appears to the students

Part 2: How “strict” it is on the students

Part 3: How much feedback is given to the students

What you choose for each setting depends on your overall training objectives and the purpose of each Moodle quiz you create.

Part 1: Appearance Settings

General 

  • The name you give it will appear in the course outline, so give it a meaningful name.
  • In the HTML editor you can create whatever you want your students to see.  I try to put a nicely formatted description in all quizzes, like this:  [click here for an example]
  • Timing 
  • If you have an ongoing, self-paced course, disable both the open and close dates this section.  If your course has a start and end date, your quiz available dates should correspond to the timeline of your syllabus.  

Display 

  • Everything I have read about this says “5″ is the best number of questions per page.  This is to reduce the load on the server. 
  • Shuffling is good if you think someone has this in his sleeve: 1.a, 2.b, 3.e, 4.c, 5.f…  It’s also useful if you’re doing a study where you’re trying to randomize the effect of the question order.  For most business applications, shuffling of questions or answers is not necessary.  

Common module settings 

  • The Group mode is the same as with all other Moodle activities.  If you don’t have groups set up in your course or if you want everyone to take the same quiz, regardless of group, leave this at no groups.
  • Visible is obvious.  If you want students to see it, you need to show it.
  • Grade categories are methods of aggregation (average, total, worst, highest) of the individual grades.  Frankly, I never use this.  I dump it all into Excel® and from there I do simple calculations and graphs; if I want more serious analysis (which I often do), I export it to Minitab®
  • If you set the ID number to something, you’ll have that as an extra field in your data file. 

Security 

  • Browser security is an attempt to stop cheating, but as the help file indicates, it isn’t simple.  I never, ever check this.
  • I’ve never quite seen the need for a password in the quiz, since the user has to have logged in to take it. 
  • The last option in this section is used only if you want to restrict where your students can log in from when they take the quiz.  If you want them to be at their desks, not in their living rooms, you’ll want to enter your company IP addresses here.  This is especially useful if there might be classified or sensitive information in the quiz. 

At this point, you have enough information to set up a Moodle quiz, using the defaults on the other settings.  You will, of course, have to upload or enter questions. That is not covered in this post. 

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A Few Words About: Formatting Your Content

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From the May 2010 issue of Penny For Your Thoughts newsletter…

When preparing materials to give to your newly hired course designer, ask her (or him!) what format is best. You may not realize it, but building a course in an LMS application such as Moodle can not be accomplished by simple “copy/paste” or “upload” of an entire file. Each page is actually a web page, written in HTML just like this newsletter, a WordPress site, and any number of other web applications that you may have seen or even used.

HTML doesn’t like special characters (like the apostrophe I just typed) or formatting symbols used by Word. They may look ok when you paste them in, but on the user’s screen, they’ll show up as little rectangles instead of punctuation; you’ve seen them before, I’m sure. Or, maybe you thought someone went wild with the ampersand. That’s what happens when you copy directly into an HTML editor from another application with its own formatting. PowerPoint has another whole set of problematic formatting and PDF isn’t without quirks.

So, before you go through the effort of nicely formatting something, ask your designer what will work best for her. Most of the formatting I receive has to be completely scrubbed out and redone.

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Monday, June 7th, 2010

As it turns out, you can have too many tarps.

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Last month, my husband and I took our two (very large) dogs camping.  Not just camping, but tent camping on the beach in the Florida Keys.  I had no idea what to expect (other than the obvious mosquitoes, no-see-ums, sand, intense humidity, and blistering heat).  I carefully planned for months what to take.  Living in a hurricane zone, we have plenty of emergency supplies that would be good for camping – such as tarps.  At the last minute, I tossed a pile of tarps in the car, saying “you can’t have too many tarps”.

When we broke camp, it was pouring rain.  It was one of those Florida spring rains that are accompanied by gusting wind and lightning.  Needless to say, we didn’t pack the car as tightly as we did at the beginning of our journey, so things weren’t fitting as nicely as they had.  Plus, they were wet and covered with sand.  As it turns out, a pile of tarps takes up a lot of space!

Even though one tarp is highly valuable if you need emergency shelter from rain, several tarps have diminishing returns.  At some point, they become a liability rather than an asset.

As always, I see analogies between life and learning and on the long (rainy) ride home, I got to thinking about how information is like a tarp.  And how too much stuff – in training – can become a liability, just like too many tarps.  Just like with camping, too much stuff can detract from the experience.  So this brings us full circle (at least the way my mind works) to earlier posts:

  • Who is our audience and what do they want out of this experience?  The camping audience was two people and two dogs.  What we wanted was to relax and spend time together.  We did get plenty of the latter… In an eLearning course, the audience most likely wants to learn something.  They don’t want to be subjected to overload.  One tarp is good; five is too many.
  • Why are we doing this?  What do we want to get out of it?  If we’re planning a camping trip or an eLearning curriculum, our goals are similar:  we want the campers – or the students – to have a positive experience worth remembering.
  • What can we reasonably accomplish without undo risk or hardship?  What are our constraints?  Is it possible to have a really fun camping trip with just one tarp as a back-up?  Yes.  Is it possible to deliver a really great eLearning course without including every imaginable detail, idea, point of view, or feature?  Yes.

If you need help in deciding how many tarps to bring or how to design your eLearning so that it is a good balance of features and content for your situation, hire a course designer.  It will be worth it when you’re standing in the rain, wondering how you’re going to fit it all in.

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